Call it, when the one-drop meets the lope. Volume 7 in the ongoing GarciaLive series, drawing from a November 1976 date in Palo Alto recently unearthed by former Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux, melds the iconoclastic rhythm of the Dead with the low-gear, island time of reggae for a two-disc set overflowing with extended vibrations.
This incarnation of the JGB featured Donna and husband Keith, on loan from the Dead, in prominent roles; Donna either singing lead, co-lead, or harmony throughout, and Keith’s keyboards, mixed high, riding shotgun to Garcia’s driving guitar. The repertoire hugs the covers tightly, from an opening one-two combo of “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” and a reggae reading of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” Dead standards “Friend of the Devil” and “Mission in the Rain” feel right at home in the hands of this lineup, with the rhythm section of longtime JGB bassist John Kahn and drummer Ron Tutt working in tempos laid back, laid even further back, and nearly laid out. The “Who Was John?” is so relaxed, it’s sublimely impressive in its restraint. Not restrained are the passages of improvisation, climaxing on the epic “Don’t Let Go” that clocks-in at over twenty minutes, one of many spaces open and without borders to be filled by Garcia and Godchaux.
1976 was a year of lesser activity for the Grateful Dead before the mammoth run of 1977, and was a time when reggae found a global audience on the shoulders of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Jimmy Cliff. Garcia tips his cap to the encroaching influence, with nods to Marley and Tosh’s Wailers with “Stir it Up,” and “Stop That Train,” while keeping the Heads happy. In the end, maybe all that is really needed to explain the thrust of this evening’s performance is the title of the final song- “Ride Mighty High.” When the one-drop meets the lope it is one mighty high ride.